Top 10 Most Important Medical Devices of the 20th Century

  • Medical treatments moved forward in leaps and bounds during the 20th century, enabling quality of life to be greatly improved and for the quantity of that same life to be extended.
    In addition to pharmaceutical developments, a significant number of new medical devices became commonplace in the treatment of a variety of health conditions.
    Drug Lawsuit Source compiled a list of the 10 of the most important medical devices to have been invented during the 20th century.
    What do you think? Did we leave an important medical device off our list? Which device would you add to this list? And what can we expect the 21st century to bring?
    10. Da Vinci Surgical System: The Da Vinci Robot (approved by the FDA in 2000) has revolutionized complex surgery and is increasingly used for cardiovascular and gynecological surgeries. Using a computer console, the surgeon controls a series of robotic tools which provide a far greater level of precision than could be achieved by hand.
    9. Electrocauterizer and Laparoscope: The electrocauterizer and laparoscope are unrelated, but both devices have become irreplaceable to many surgeons. The electrocauterizer uses heat to seal tissue or vessels and prevent bleeding, thus saving many lives. The laparoscope makes many surgeries possible through the tiniest incisions, thereby reducing pain and recovery times, while also reducing the risk of excessive blood loss.
    8. Artificial Heart: Robert Jarvik's artificial heart was not the first circulatory mechanical support device, but it was the first to be successfully implanted in a human. As a result, his name is now known worldwide in the field of cardiology. The artificial heart replaces the ventricles in the case of end-stage heart failure. Implantation is a complex procedure, but can extend life until a donor heart is found.
    7. Artificial Joint Replacements: Worn bone joints no longer mean relegation to a wheelchair, thanks largely to the artificial joint. The first metallic replacement hip joints were used in the 1940s. In time, knee and shoulder joint replacements also became available, giving new capabilities to those previously crippled by arthritis. The advent of 3D printing at the dawn of the 21st century has paved the way for custom-designed joint implants.
    6. Respirator/Iron Lung: First developed in the 1920s, respirators were widely used for pumping oxygen into the lungs of those paralyzed by polio. In the 1950s, this first form of respirator was replaced by ventilators which pumped air into the lungs via a face mask or a tube. They were similar to those used by pilots in WWII, enabling them to breathe at high altitudes. In time, the ventilator became an essential part of surgery, safely regulating a patient's breathing during an operation.
    5. Dialysis Machine: The first artificial kidney machine, built in 1943, failed. A wartime lack of materials made for an unsafe device and all 15 trial patients died. Nevertheless, the science behind the machine was sound and by the 1950s, dialysis machines extended the lives of people with kidney disease by removing the toxins and pumping clean blood back into the body.
    4. Pacemaker: 1932: Dr. Albert Hyman, of New York, invented the modern pacemaker. His device was cranked by hand and produced enough of an electrical pulse to restart a heart that had stopped. 1952: Paul Zoll designed the first successful pacemaker -- a bulky device worn on the belt and plugged into an electrical socket. 1960: The first internal pacemaker was successfully implanted, signaling a new era in cardiac medicine.
    3. Defibrillator: By the 19th century, researchers knew that a jolt of electricity could help to normalize an abnormal heart rhythm. In 1947, Claude Beck performed the first defibrillation on a human during surgery on a teenage boy whose heart went into ventricular fibrillation (V-Fib). Paddles were used to shock the heart and the patient eventually recovered. Note that the device, now commonplace, does not restart a stopped heart; rather it regulates an irregular heartbeat. In 1985, the first implantable cardioverter defibrillator was approved, weighing just 9oz.
    2. Diagnostic Imaging Technologies: Imaging technologies have moved far beyond the basic X-ray (discovered in 1895) to something resembling the American space age. Many of these non-invasive techniques evolved from methods used during WWII to detected enemy vessels. Now, they allow for accurate diagnoses. Among the best-known imaging technologies: magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound, nuclear scans, and computed tomography (CT) scans.
    1. The Laser: Lasers are used as a diagnostic tool for many conditions, including cancer. Lasers are also used in a number of types of surgeries, ranging from cosmetic surgery to cancer removal to eye surgeries. When used in surgery, they allow the surgeon to achieve more precise results, while reducing blood loss and post-operative pain.